From the current edition of Landworker magazine of Unite.
This year will be key in the fight to preserve the Forestry Commission (FC) and the great work it carries out. The retirement of a number of key activists means there is an urgent need for more local union representatives – including safety and union learning reps - within the organisation.
Union density also needs increasing right across the FC in both England and Scotland, within Forest Research and in Silvan House. Forms are available to help recruit anyone who is not yet a union member.
FC Trade Unions (FCTU) have waged a well-organised campaign to maintain an integrated and sustainably resourced Forestry Commission for the Future. A nationwide series of members’ meetings last year attracted over 500, many of whom vented their frustration about how high level decisions have been taken without considering the effects they have on individuals.
The FCTU subsequently raised, in a series of meetings with management, members’ concerns. These include fears about the government plans for the Public Forest Estate (PFE) to be replaced by a PFE management organisation (PFEMO); a statutorily based public corporation operating at arm’s length but managed by their appointees; FC staff transferred to a new body will lose their civil service status; terms and conditions; rates of pay and other benefits.
Defra lawyers are currently putting together a requirements document which is the first stage in drafting new legislation. On 29 January, the FC announced that it had reviewed the principles, which would underpin the new organisation.
They include a number of concessions, including a Charter that would be renewed every 10 years specifying the public benefit and statutory duties of the organisation. The previously proposed limiting of the functions of the forest services directorate has been abandoned after the FCTU expressed concerns that only a tiny organisation would remain and be vulnerable to a takeover or a future government bonfire.
There is currently no formal Parliamentary timetable as to when legislation relating to the PFEMO will be in the Queen’s Speech and the decision to go ahead will rest with the cabinet.
All of which means the fight to retain the FC as a non-ministerial government department is far from over, making it vital that people come forward as elected union representatives. “I’d appeal to Unite members to consider being elected as workplace representatives,” says Julia Long, Unite’s rural national officer.
“Also, anyone who is not currently a union member should join as soon as possible, and I’d also urge union members to persuade colleagues of theirs to sign up as members. Meantime we must keep up the struggle to preserve the FC in its current form.”